Ivory Coast: 16 dead in Grand Bassam beach resort attack

Media caption,
The BBC's Maud Jullien visited the scene of the attack

Militants have killed at least 16 people in a gun attack on a beach resort in southern Ivory Coast.

The attackers fired on beach-goers in Grand Bassam, about 40km (25 miles) from the commercial capital Abidjan.

The resort is popular with both locals and foreigners. Four of the dead were Westerners, including a French and a German national, officials say.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) said it launched the attack. The gunmen have been "neutralised", officials say.

Ivory Coast was once one of the most stable countries in West Africa.

However, a civil war broke out in 2002, pitting the mainly Muslim north against the largely Christian south. Since then, peace deals have alternated with renewed violence.

Analysis: Mina al-Lami, BBC Monitoring

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) was quick to claim responsibility for the attack. It published its claim in four languages - a sign that the group was seeking to boost its media profile to match its recently enhanced operational capabilities.

The brief statement in Arabic, English, French and Spanish was published as an image on AQIM's Twitter account and through the messaging app Telegram.

The format resembled the style used by jihadist rivals Islamic State group (IS), indicating that AQIM wants to emulate IS's more advanced media operation.

AQIM said in the statement that three of its militants were responsible for this attack.

AQIM has been almost dormant in the past few years. But it stepped up its presence after announcing in December that it had partnered with the more active militant group al-Murabitoun which is known for high-profile hostage taking. This allowed Al-Qaeda to claim credit for al-Murabitoun' s hotel attacks in Mali in November and in Burkina Faso in January.

A witness to Sunday's attack told AFP news agency that "heavily armed men wearing balaclavas" had opened fire near the L'Etoile du Sud hotel, which was full of expats.

One of the people on the beach, Belgian Charline Burton, told the BBC she grabbed her daughter and ran to hide in a toilet.

"We could hear them shooting so we could hear that they were going right next to where we were. It was a miracle the baby didn't cry," she said.

Fourteen of those killed were civilians and two were soldiers, officials say. Interior Minister Hamed Bakayoko said four of the civilians were Westerners, and included a French and a German national.

There is no word on the nationalities of the other victims.

Ivory Coast's National Security Council is holding an emergency meeting to discuss the attack.

President Alassane Ouattara visited the site a few hours after the attack and promised that security in the country will be strengthened.

"These cowardly attacks by terrorists will not be tolerated," he added.

French President Francois Hollande also condemned the attack.

Image source, Reuters
Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
The Etoile du Sud hotel was targeted

BBC regional reporter Maud Jullien says Ivory Coast has been identified as one of several countries in West Africa at risk of being targeted by Islamist militants.

AQIM claimed deadly attacks on luxury hotels in Mali in November and Burkina Faso in January.

The group, which has its origin in Algeria's civil war of the 1990s, has expanded across the Sahel regions south of the Sahara in recent years.

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